Regardless of the situation at the Storm Battlefront, Bertelgia’s pencil was busy with her portrait on a sketchpad. Sungchul stood on the mountainside with fierce winds watching the situation unfold below him.
Martin, as befitting of someone who was born and raised on the battlefield, sent a small number of patrols toward the fortress first to gauge any potential dangers ahead. The five-member unit of patrols composed of Dwarves and Elves entered the fortress, and two of them ran out of the fortress in a panic after ten minutes. They ran toward Martin Breggas with an urgent message while being soaked in blood. Their message didn’t reach Sungchul’s ears, but he could roughly guess what they had to say. They had met him. Elijah Breggas who had become a High Devil.
As Martin was preparing his entire army for battle, he also sent a signal toward the Human Empire fleet waiting in the sky. The fleet made some distance from the fortress. If the precious airships happened to fall by chance through this High Devil’s magic, the cornered Martin’s already miniscule chances of success would diminish even further. Martin was planning on using the forces he had on hand to face the High Devil hiding within the fortress. However, there was something bothering him.
‘There is no way a High Devil is moving alone here. Devils are prone to forming packs, and it is common knowledge that they gather more subjects as they become more powerful. If this Devil is at the rank of High Devil, he would have at least a thousand to ten thousand followers.’
As his thoughts trailed on, his hesitation grew longer. The people around him carefully urged him to come to a decision. Despite this, Martin decided to inspect the vicinity once more with the patrols he had with him. It was in this process that a Dragon Knight discovered Sungchul accidentally. He was caught up in turbulence causing him to fall behind from his group allowing him to catch sight of Sungchul hidden among the strange rock formations.
Sungchul was standing outside as he noticed the flight path of the Dragon Knights and never imagined that they would be able to see him, only to be discovered by this convergence of coincidences. Fortunately, it wasn’t as though Martin could strike at Sungchul whether he knew Sungchul’s location or not. To move his main force, the Civil Militia of Trowyn, toward the mountainside that Sungchul was in, they would have to go through the fortress that was impeding their path across the rugged valley, Archon Crack. However, there was an unknown Devil holding his ground within the fortress.
Martin was now in a troublesome situation where he would have to get rid of the High Devil first before he could get a chance at taking down Sungchul. It might have been a monumentally easier task if they were on an open field, but to take care of a High Devil in the cloistered fortress was incredibly difficult. It might have been the best option for Martin himself to step up for the job, but Martin was not the type of person that would face this level of danger.
It wasn’t an option to utilize the Air Fleet of the Human Empire. It was also problematic to lose soldiers from the Human Empire’s forces, but it was unacceptable for Martin to have the credit taken away from him. It was for this purpose that he did not alert the fleet that he discovered Sungchul.
‘It’s a miracle that the leader of the dispatched forces is an idiot.’
The one in command of the dispatched forces was none other than Minamoto Daisuke who was known as a fool. He had thought that Dmitri Medioff had left him in charge of the dispatched forces as a recognition of his abilities, but in truth, he was being sent away as a nuisance. Minamoto was sharpening his beloved weapon – Yodo Kamaitachi which was an imitation of the Japanese Katana on top of the deck while waiting for his bout with the Enemy of the World.
“Just you wait, Yodo Kamaitachi. Soon… you’ll be feasting on the blood of that fucking bastard, Sungchul! Kekeke…”
Minamoto’s eyes which were burning with madness was fixated onto a single scene in the past about ten years ago. A battlefield filled with bodies. Blazing sky. Warriors tempering their breath in preparation for the final battle.
“I’ll settle the score with you for what happened at Lagrange…!”
Minamoto’s entire body was burning with such passion, but he wasn’t aware that Sungchul was right under his nose.
Martin let out a sigh of relief only after confirming that the fleet led by Minamoto had shown no sign of movement.
“It looks like god hasn’t forsaken me yet. Seeing as I got picked an idiot to accompany me among all those other admirals, but the real problem starts from here.”
Martin stared at the sheer cliff that Sungchul was situated in with his blue-gray eyes. Sungchul was fully aware he was discovered, yet chose not to move from his spot. The reality was that in order to attack Sungchul, Martin would have to take on the High Devil lurking inside the fortress, Archon Crack.
Minamoto was a Summoned who had arrived in this world at a similar time period, but the difference between their potentials was like the difference between the heavens and the earth itself. Sungchul had even gone as far as to lay on a flat rock to comfortably spectate the spectacle unfolding on this side. Martin couldn’t see what Sungchul’s facial expression was like, but he predicted that Sungchul was likely smiling, fully aware of what Martin was doing and what the consequences were. Martin felt like shit.
‘Sungchul… that bastard…!!’
He immediately sent another message to the Human Empire fleet; advising them to distance themselves a bit further. It was another small miracle that Minamoto hadn’t detected anything despite the fact that Sungchul had now revealed himself publicly. Minamoto acquiesced Martin’s report and moved the fleet to an open space very far away.
Sungchul watched the entire scene, amused.
“Shouldn’t we start running again? We’ve been discovered here, right?”
Bertelgia had completed another picture and clasped it between her pages as she presented it.
“It’s the 10th page with this one!”
Sungchul brought the drawing to the original portrait to turn it in and scattered the detailed message that appeared in front of his eyes with the wave of his hand before speaking calmly.
“Martin has to cross through that fortress in order to meet me here; meaning he will face his karmic punishment in the process. And…”
Sungchul’s eyes turned beyond the mountains big and small to the dust cloud lingering there. There was a figure of a fortress with eight legs looming between the dust clouds. It was the Mobile Fortress of the Order of the Iron Blood Knights. The Order who had become subordinates of the Devils were heading in this direction. Their objective was clear.
“… It seems like there is more than one karmic retribution waiting for him though.”
The Lord Marquis’ fortune of having discovered Sungchul had turned to poison. He was stuck hesitating between a High Devil that stood in his path and the Order of the Iron Blood Knights coming from the side without having made a decision. He wanted to retreat, but then he would lose Sungchul that he had worked so hard to find but to stay meant committing to a meaningless battle against the Order of the Iron Blood Knights.
“Should we request aid from Admiral Minamoto?”
A young adjunct lacking tact suddenly spoke. Martin’s face grew stiff. Displeasure permeated the surrounding air making the atmosphere heavy and suffocating. Martin pointed toward that tactless adjunct in that heavy silence.
“I’ll give you a small number of men. Go into the fortress and lure the High Devil out.”
That adjunct was the child of a reputable family within Trowyn. His placement in the position that was beyond his age and ability was all because of his parents who sponsored Martin, but such realities were just sentiments currently.
“Go and immediately carry out the order. You can also choose to die here by my hands instead.”
Martin reached toward the hilt of his blade while giving a murderous glare. The young adjunct who believed that he would make it out this at the very least ran out of the tent in a panic. A suicidal bait tactic was formulated under the gaze of thousands of soldiers. The young adjunct entered the dark fortress with a small number of men with a pale face. It didn’t take long before an unrecognizable piece of meat was spat out through the dark hole. The soldiers could hear the sound of chains in that darkness, and two sunken lights lingering from within.
“This is our castle. Those who trespass our castle will not be forgiven.”
The High Devil’s voice rang out in the darkness. The voice was clearly transmitted into Martin’s ears as well. He felt goosebumps breaking out all over his body. It was because the voice was remarkably similar to a voice he was very familiar with.
‘It couldn’t be… It can’t be!’
He found himself approaching the entrance of the fortress before he realized it.
“Lord Marquis! It is dangerous to enter alone!”
Martin snapped awake and retreated from the entrance when the adjuncts around him stopped him.
“It’s fine whether it’s a torch or magic. Bring everything that can illuminate the darkness and follow me.”
Martin entered the fortress accompanied by dozens of warriors and magicians. Normally, he would never do this, but the voice he had heard was compelling enough for him to enter the perilous darkness.
The Devil’s rough breathing and the sound of metallic chains grew closer. The knight at the vanguard who held a roaring torch was suddenly swallowed up by something in the darkness and disappeared.
“Prepare for battle! Prepare for battle!”
The soldiers formed a circular formation with Martin Breggas in the center in an effort to protect their lord from the worst-case scenario. A massive figure could be seen beyond the torches and magic lights that lit the surroundings. The sound of saliva being swallowed could be heard from various places. It was the High Devil.
Martin held his hand on the hilt of his blade and observed the dark figure with his breath held. The Devil finally revealed itself under the firelight. A brawny arm wrapped in crimson light and clothing that had been torn away came into sight first. Martin’s eyes were locked onto the fluttering scraps of clothing. On the corner of the clothing, there was a patch with an image of a winged skull on a black background stitched onto it. Martin who caught sight of this felt a sinking feeling that continued without end.
‘That can’t be. That kid… is dead. In the Demonic Realm.’
Aaron Genghis the vice-captain of the Suicide Unit, who was in charge of Elijah’s murder, had left the Demon Battlefront as though he was fleeing from something, but it was undeniable that Elijah had crossed into the Demon Realm. That place wasn’t something that just anyone could survive.
The High Devil took a step closer and his face veiled under the darkness was revealed. The hideous face with its eyes carved out was looking towards Martin’s direction expressionlessly.
“Another intruder? Who dares trespass my domain!”
The High Devil spoke with a calm and grounded demeanor ill-fitting his grotesque appearance.
Parlim Dargott carefully broached the topic with Martin. He had also sensed it.
Martin pulled his blade and spoke calmly toward the son he loved the most.
“You. Head outside.”
“Head outside and prepare for the movements of the Order of the Iron Blood Knights who are approaching from the north.”
Martin spoke resolutely. After confirming that Parlim had left the fortress with a small number of men, he moved forward.
“Who are you?”
His voice was weak and trembling, different than usual.
The High Devil tilted his head toward where the sound originated. The metal chain wrapped around his shoulder and waist shook as he moved. Martin could see what appeared to be the hair of a woman beyond the metal chains. It was a familiar blonde. The face of the blushing woman on the farm who lowered her head toward him when he inspected the farmlands suddenly flashed across his eyes.
“Are you referring to me?”
The Devil spoke again. Martin nodded. The Devil’s mouth slowly opened, and he spoke the words he had expected yet could not accept.
“I am Elijah Breggas, and this is my most beloved and reliable sister, Sophia Breggas.”
The Devil turned his back, and the limbs and head of Sophia shook like a doll as she hung on his back.
Martin’s eyes flared up.
Soon, his arms and legs trembled and a strange sound burst forth.
The blade in his hand fell on the ground. His body collapsed and had to be supported by his subordinates.
“Who are you? I have definitely seen you before. I have certainly heard your voice before. I can’t see you right now because I have no eyes.”
Elijah reached out with his hand and scratched his head. When the Devil’s nails scratched his head that was covered in crimson fur, skin flakes like rock salt with a pungent stench fell off.
Martin discovered that he could speak no more. Reality harsher than death had stolen his speech. His heart felt taut, and his mind unfocused. He felt as he would die if he gazed upon this creature even a second longer. His hand gestured for him to be dragged away from this place, and his soldiers supported him in leaving the fortress.
“Who are you? Why do you leave without a reply?”
The High Devil followed in pursuit. The soldiers stood their ground, but they were crushed under the High Devil’s toenails and turned to meat. It was only through great sacrifice that Martin was able to walk out of the fortress alive.
Martin who was now heading toward his tent, borrowing the shoulders of his men, had already died in some sense.
Sungchul was watching this scene unfold with an indifferent gaze.
Three days passed.
“Tada! How is it? The new technique from Miss Bertelgia?”
Bertelgia who had been forcibly conscripted into labor for many hours now had come up with a new technique as though to prove that she was a clever child. The new method wasn’t to draw the face, eyes, nose, and mouth using her hand like a human, but to take her form in consideration and draw the portrait in its entirety from top to bottom and left to right. She didn’t realize it herself, but her movements were reminiscent to that of a printer.
“With this, it’s the twenty-sixth page.”
Sungchul turned in the new picture on top of the original and continued to observe below. Ominous clouds of war were drawing in as the Mobile Fortress of the Order of the Iron Blood Knights stood tall behind Martin’s base where he had holed himself in after receiving the trauma. Both sides were waiting with bated breath and were about to commit to battle soon. Sungchul looked over at Bertelgia and asked.
“How much longer do you think you’ll need?”
“With the new Bertelgia’s expression technique, maybe 2 hours?”
“It might be ok to take it slow.”
Sungchul chewed on dried date palm and watched the scene below his feet unfold. The Iron Blood Knights that held the brand of the Devils on their forehead were making a formation under the Mobile Fortress while roaring in anger.
“Death to the traitor, Martin Breggas!” “We repay what is owed!” “Hey, Breggas! We’ll make you regret underestimating us!”
Martin’s bid for redemption was going awry in the worst way imaginable.
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